I’ve Been Hurt by the Church…

I closed the blinds, drew the drapes, pulled on my pajamas, climbed back into the unmade bed – thankful for the cool hug of the sheets – pulled the covers high over my ears, tunneled out an air hole, and allowed the heavy, hot tears of grief to come.

I meant for their arms to hold my babies as they grew. I had expected their faces to wallpaper all the days I’m given. Their wisdom was to be our treasure as we aged; their marriages were to parallel ours through many springs and winters.

Our church family dissolved right before our eyes. We walked out of solid, white doors knowing it was the final curtain for many of us. It was September 2006.

That was not my initiation into church hurt. Oh no. My heart was sufficiently broken by the Church before I was a proficient reader.

And I’m no anomaly. I can immediately think of three recent casual interactions with three different individuals sharing a tale of hurt involving three different churches.

Tragically, two of those three are no longer regularly attending church anywhere.

Is this resonating more than you wish it were? Congratulations. With all sincerity, I commend you for your church hurt.

Hurt is a facet of love. If you have been hurt by the Church, it simply means you opened your heart to it. You stepped in. You engaged from a vulnerable space. That is commendable. It means that at one time you invested enough to put yourself out there. That’s the only way hurt happens. People who sneak in and dash out have no skin in the game and probably escape unscathed.

However, he who invests little benefits little.

As a lifelong beneficiary and purveyor of church hurt, I suggest we need a different lens for this unfortunate reality.

Hurt is not an infirmity of the Church; it is an inevitability.

There is good and bad news here. The bad news is – if you continue to attend church and plug in – you will get your feelings hurt again. The good news is it has nothing to do with you. Everyone in every church will have their happy bruised in time.

I’ll wage my daily Diet Pepsi habit on it.

Answer me this. When were your feelings last hurt by your spouse? Your children? Your parents? Your friends? Your in-laws?

It’s the law of selfish people. Where two or more are gathered, there will be hurt feelings.

The Church is a relationship not a restaurant.

I don’t mean that in a snarky way. I mean we bring different levels of commitment to those two instances.

After we left our beloved church family in the scenario above, we ran into a middle-aged man who had served as a deacon with Chris.

Chris: Hey, man; it’s good to see you! How’s your family; are you guys still at XYZ Church?

Man: We are doing well, and yeah, we’re still there. For me, to leave would be akin to divorcing my wife.

Chris and I smugly shook our heads, incredulous at what we deemed his unwarranted loyalty. And while we still know we were obedient to leave, I also have a more seasoned understanding of what he meant.

We commit to any relationship because the value to us exceeds the risk of hurt. And once we are hurt, we usually do the hard work to pursue resolution and forgiveness because that relationship is worth it to us.

We want to continue to make memories and partake in snort laughs and cry shared tears, so we commit to healing. This posture is appropriate in the Church. Because it is a growing, changing, living, messy organism of flawed people. Its identity isn’t that of a service provider; it’s that of a person.


Grace doesn’t reside on a one-way street.

I’m crazy about grace. Because God keeps me keenly aware of how much I need it. There are a few hairy rules about grace, though.

Grace must be undeserved. That’s what it is. It is “unmerited favor.” Which means if we are extending affection, forgiveness, leniency to someone we believe deserves it, it isn’t grace. It may be appropriate and justified. But it isn’t grace.

Grace must travel in two directions. Let’s say I get my feelings hurt because I haven’t been to church in a month and no one called to check on me. Or that I recently went through a divorce and felt snubbed by people at church. Or that I was overlooked for a leadership role I feel I deserved. Or that I brought my crock pot macaroni into the fellowship hall and the other ladies were in a circle talking and didn’t acknowledge my presence or contribution.

Feelings hurt……check.

I will expect these people to show me grace for my absenteeism, my bitterness and unforgiveness towards my ex, my indignation about being passed over, or my curt reply to the ladies at lunch after the service. But I will likely give no thought to the grace I am required to extend to them for their busyness, their uncertainty about how to navigate my volatile, messy emotions, perhaps even their exclusion or judgment.

We will often beat the drum of grace for our favorite sinner, usually ourselves, without a thought about what grace requires of us in the other direction.

People aren’t nicer outside the church; we just expect less of them.

Should church people be kinder, more compassionate, less judgmental because they love Jesus? Unequivocally, yes.

Are you those things?

I don’t know about you, but this becoming more like Jesus isn’t as easy as you might think. In my prayers, I often apologize to the Lord that I’m not farther along in this transformation gig than I am. I gossip. I am a glutton. I am proud. I am bitter. I confess and turn from these sins only to find I am wracked with others.

I am the hurter and the hurt. And you probably are too.

As marriage or parenting keeps us desperately aware of our need for Jesus, so does being part of the Church. Because when my sinfulness bumps into yours, relational messiness results.


Jesus was hurt by the Church.

I know this guy who was sold down the river by one of his best friends. The “friend” was bribed by authorities to corroborate trumped up charges. “Friend” agreed and actually led them to the guy for his arrest. The guy was hanging out with the rest of their friend group, but they all scattered as the whole thing went down so they wouldn’t be implicated.

They all went into hiding, afraid they’d be drawn into the fray. One “friend” lied repeatedly about his association with the guy, and they all allowed him to be sentenced to death without ever coming to his defense or testifying about the false charges.

Yet at his death, he blanketed them with forgiveness.

And they became the Church. And changed the world.

Do we really want to miss out on that?

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I was hesitant to write this post because the last thing I ever want to do is dishonor the Church.

I esteem the Church with adoration and reverence. Which is why I think we’re afraid to talk about this in the open as a body of believers. But here’s the thing; I see gifted, passionate believers tapping out, and that’s not okay.

You don’t have to come to my church. We’ll probably hurt you if you do. But get in a church somewhere. And know that they’re going to hurt you too. Not because they mean to. For the most part, I believe people everywhere are doing the best they know to do. But because it’s the law of selfish people.

Whose agenda is advanced when we neglect meeting together?

Whose?

Some of my greatest hurts have happened in the context of the Church. But so have my greatest blessings.

The risk and messy hard work are worth it, friend. They are.

Life Interrupted: Surviving Lumpectomy Day & All the Surprises That Came With It.

I wrangled seven tinny bangles from my wrist, kicked off my Toms, replaced my earrings and turned toward an evening of mama duties. As I looked up to leave, I noticed the calendar in our closet still spoke of March.

I stood long before it, kicked by its lapse. Life’s sucker punches dissolve time into a liquid that no longer fits into tidy matching squares. Days of the week have their identity stolen by new, urgent, scary things.

I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ on March 30.

I had a lumpectomy on April 25.

Sunday, April 23:

I sat in the purplish plastic chair with all of their hands on me. Hands that have known a lot of life. Hands that have been shackled by defeat and hurt and destruction; hands now free to bless and comfort. In the confines of confinement.

At the conclusion of “church” in Pod H, my team member led the ladies in prayer for me. She stood behind me and poured sweet, thick, blessed intercession on my head; it ran the course of my downturned face and dripped slowly into my soul. A curtain of orange tucked me in as the ladies spoke their own prayers for me in an undertone of agreement.

A desert flower.

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I join my family for our church service after I leave jail each week. We stood to leave for lunch as a sea of people passed before us, responding to the message. A staff member looked over and gestured for me to walk with the lady he was escorting. I had not seen her before though that is not unusual at our church.

I smiled as I melted into the the tide of responders. “Chris and Campbell are so bummed right now,” I chuckled, recalling our urgent exclamations for food only moments before.

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Monday, April 24:

Surgeon: There were no surprises on the MRI; have you made a decision between going the mastectomy route or for the lumpectomy?

Me: I have. I say we just go in and take out what needs to be removed.

Surgeon: When do you want to do this?

Me: I can do tomorrow.

Surgeon: Okay. Let me check. I think I can tomorrow.

Me: [blank terror.]

Tuesday, April 25:

I’m no bulletproof Christian. I feel all the human things.

Shockingly, I slept well Monday night. But I woke up knowing I could not do what the day would require.

I cannot do this with a caffeine/hunger killer headache.

I cannot have a wire guide line inserted while I am unmedicated and awake.

I cannot do all of these needle sticks.

I cannot be nice to my family and all the people.

I cannot handle the nausea and pain of waking in recovery.

I cannot wait and wait and wait and wait all day, heavy with dread, shaky with fear.

I cannot keep my eyes on things above.

I cannot stay the jaws of this fear.

A knot of panic, I crawled inside myself, releasing words to the surface only when necessary.

5:50 (the early one)

Chris dropped the girls and I at the hospital entrance. They piled from the back seat and spontaneously encircled me before we entered; Carson began to pray. We bowed our heads as we took her cue, a tight ring of teary petitions. When we loosened our grip, there were six or seven people waiting respectfully for us to finish before they passed through the doors.

A sweet nurse looked back into my eyes and shared a meaningful smile as she walked in.

6:15ish

We sprawled across a section of seats, as I waited to be called to a registration station. A few minutes later, a young lady stepped around the partition and called a name. Not my name. But both my hands flew to cover my face.

It was her.

It was undeniably her.

The sweet girl I had prayed with at church on Sunday. The very girl I had never seen before. The very girl I was paired with while drumming up a foretaste of lunch and an exit strategy. The very girl I had no clue where she worked. The very girl I had accidentally met just two days before.

We exchanged recognition, and I asked for a return favor in the prayer department.

And with that there was rain in a deep, dry place in me.

6:35

I was called to a registration cubicle and begin reading what my lady had posted on her walls. This was the first that caught my eye:

The storm that was sent to break you is going to be

the storm God uses to make you.

There was a workplace prayer hanging next to it which invited the Holy Spirit to use her gifts to serve those before her.

Water to parched ground.

7:00

I was assigned a room and left there to rest completely undisturbed for two hours. Lights off, blankets on, Bible near. A cessation of all stimulation for two hours. No phone. No words. No nurses. Nothing. A recalibration.

I needed nothing more than I needed those two hours.

A spring within the valley.

9:00

Because DCIS is undetectable by touch or sight, a wire had to be inserted into my breast, using mammography and a threaded needle, to direct the surgeon to the tissue to remove. A short piece of the wire was left hanging out until surgery. Because my participation was required for the procedure, I was unmedicated and awake.

The anticipation of this wheelchair ride comprised 85% of my fears of the day, but the wiring was quick, virtually painless, and my people were so thoughtful and funny. They are accredited with the first smile of the day.

As I stepped out – knowing this imaging department better than I should – I looked to the waiting room on my right and caught an unfamiliar face. I looked to my left, and there was Shawna.

There was Shawna.

Shawna knew I was having surgery that day. She knelt down in front of the wheelchair and spoke love and strength over me as my fear materialized into jumbo tears.

Shawna who had delayed her own mammogram follow-up until she learned of my diagnosis.

Shawna in the right place at the right time. Shawna with the voice and the hands that were Jesus to me in that moment.

Juniper in the wilderness.

10:15

I was wheeled to the holding area outside of the operating room; Chris cut the lights as I tried to talk down my inner captor.

A nurse walked in and introduced herself, “Hi, my name’s Maria, and I’ll be taking care of you.” And then she leaned in close and said this, “But before I get started, I want you to know I prayed for you this morning. I knew that you were having surgery today, and I prayed that the Lord would let me take care of you. My husband is a pastor here in town, and I heard you speak at A Taste of Christmas…”

Maria. Maria who prayed for me. Maria who spoke love and strength over me as my faith materialized into jumbo tears.

Maria in the right place at the right time. Maria with the voice and the hands that were Jesus to me in that moment.

A cedar in the desert.

12:00

I awakened in recovery, feeling much like a character on Grey’s. Inquisitive. Not nauseous. Little pain.

“You look a lot younger than you are,” the uber young nurse said. “I’m not saying you’re old or anything, but I thought you were younger.”

“I’ll take it,” I replied dryly.

After the customary wait, a young guy wheeled me out. We turned a corner and passed a whiteboard with red writing. Two verses from Isaiah. That’s all that was on the board. And they filled the board.

As this gentleman transported me, he told me he and his wife had been praying for a second child and that she had surprised him with the news of their pregnancy in his Easter basket only a week before. He shared that if “The Man Upstairs” takes requests, they would like two boys and a girl.

Feeling so light and full and blessed, I thought, “Oh, He definitely takes requests…

A river flowing on barren heights.

Some might discount the events of this day as nice and favorable coincidences. I do not.

I asked the Lord for a river through a desert. A river through my desert. I asked Him to show me what that looks like.

Father, when I read Isaiah 41, I believe it in my DNA. I believe You can do it, and I think I am within the bounds of Your will and pleasure to ask for it personally. Run a river through my desert. Plant a forest in my wasteland. I believe You for it.

And that’s what He did. He positioned Himself at my every turn. I was physically quaking with fear, and I took those emotions captive a million times that day, but I didn’t feel alone for a millisecond. Not once did He let me take my eyes off Him. He was around every corner.

The God of the Universe stood where I could see Him all day.

He ran a river through my desert – and it was called Love.

I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
    and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
    and the parched ground into springs.
 I will put in the desert
    the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland,
    the fir and the cypress together,
 so that people may see and know,
    may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Isaiah 41:18-20

Life, Interrupted: Navigating the Detour of an Unexpected Diagnosis. Or Any Other Difficult Life Derailment.

Timeline

January 3: Annual GYN Appt (Breast Exam & Pap – All Clear)

February 15: Annual Mammogram – Callback Letter

March 23: Follow-up Mammogram & Ultrasound

March 27: Stereotactic Biopsy

March 30: Diagnosis – DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ)

March 31: Appointment with Surgeon

April 17: MRI

April 24: Appointment with Surgeon

I curiously watched as the radiologist guided the ultrasound probe and dialed in on the screen, squinting and turning his face to get a clearer look. It was all indecipherable white static to me.

He introduced me to DCIS. One week later, sitting in an exam room with my husband and my mom, I was told that the biopsy confirmed the diagnosis. I have DCIS.

DCIS is considered the earliest form of breast cancer; it is when abnormal cells are contained in the milk ducts. I do not have a tumor or a lump; it is completely undetectable by a breast exam. It was discovered by my annual mammogram – as is the case with 80% of DCIS detection. It is the absolute best case scenario as far as this diagnosis is concerned, and – for that – I am grateful. It is a non-invasive breast cancer, meaning the malignant cells are confined and have not invaded other tissue; in some cases it is even referred to as a pre-cancerous or pre-invasive condition. It is protocol to treat DCIS aggressively to prevent it from developing into or recurring as invasive breast cancer.

We are still in the discovery process (I had an MRI three days ago), but based on what we know right now, I will have a mastectomy or lumpectomy. I will undergo radiation treatment and take Tamoxifen, an estrogen blocker, for 5-10 years.

I didn’t exactly have this penciled in on the calendar.

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Preparation

Retrospection has been a fascinating part of this short journey.

  • In August, I was compelled to get healthier and lose weight, so I started working with a trainer and lost 20 pounds, adding strength and fitness.
  • At the beginning of this year, I felt crushed by the vision of a growing ministry and sensed the wisdom of expanding the Tenacious Grace team….to share the weight.
  • As our office lease renewal weighed on my brain, I became more and more convinced we needed to cut that expense and move the office to my house.
  • The book proposal I intended to complete by summer was shelved after our event, Tandem, had to be rescheduled for 2017 as a result of Hurricane Matthew.
  • I bought a LuLaRoe ensemble from a vendor at Tandem, and it is proving ideal for awkward, uncomfortable facedown procedures. 🙂

Retrospection is how God is showing me that though this feels like a detour to me, it’s actually where we were headed all along. And He has been preparing me…

Potholes

I loud snot cried most of Tuesday evening. I imagined every worst case scenario and put myself in every single one of them. I convinced myself there is cancer all in my body that will be discovered during this process. I prepared myself for the worst possible news from Monday’s MRI, so I might not be caught off guard. Any twinge of discomfort summoned a spot of panic. I found myself taking my pulse to determine if my resting heart rate is too high and might indicate a weak or overworked heart. I googled the side effects of Tamoxifen and gave myself every one of them – even the ones I have no idea about: amenorrhea, fluid retention, hot flashes, nausea, vaginal discharge, vaginal hemorrhage, weight loss, skin changes, infection, sepsis, alopecia, constipation, cough, diarrhea, edema, increased serum aspartate aminotransferase, menstrual disease, oligomenorrhea, ostealgia, vomiting, weight gain, blood clots in the large veins (deep venous thrombosis), blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary emboli), bone loss (premenopausal women only), cancer of the uterus (uterine or endometrial cancer), cataracts, and stroke. It also causes liver cancer in rats, they say.

I loud snot cried some more.

Though my diagnosis is featherweight and my prognosis is excellent, there is a mental element that bullies. That’s probably the case with all difficult life derailments.

  • I am afraid I will never be as healthy or strong as I thought I was a month ago.
  • I am afraid of what I will feel when I look in the mirror after surgery.
  • I am afraid that Chris will no longer think I am beautiful or desirable.
  • I am afraid of depression.
  • I am frustrated this has interrupted the work of Tenacious Grace.
  • And I feel guilty that my diagnosis isn’t worse.

Tuesday night I sat in a hot bath, mopping a cocktail of tears and sweat, and I grieved my very own vulnerability. To disease. To death. To fear. To rejection. To loss.

I finally sensed the din of fear settle and heard this deep and quiet in my soul, “Cookie, you are wanting all the grace the next ten years will require when grace is only given in one day measures. I will provide all the grace that TODAY requires. And then tomorrow. And the next day. And if there is a day where major side effects or relational strain or depression is a reality, there will be grace enough for that. But you don’t get that grace today. Now breathe and trust My provision for what is in front of you right now.”

The Scenic Route

Even a perceived detour can provide some dramatic views along the way. I’m a backroad driver, a photo snapper, a memory collector, so I’m trying to be protective of eyes that see. Eyes that see the beauty along this road I hadn’t intended to take.

Wildflowers growing on the bank of a ditch.

  • There is a community of women who have stood toe-to-toe with all the fury cancer has to offer. And yet they stood. And stand firm now. I am humbled and unworthy of their encouragement. There is a strength in them I have known nothing about.
  • For the first time in my life, I have invited people into my struggle WHILE it’s raging and volatile and sometimes irrational. In the past, I only showed my hurt once the winter was over and the grass was green again. It’s brand new to feel my own battery charged by the love and encouragement of others.
  • This roadside daisy has some growing to do, but I see its potential – reconciling my own death. If we live long enough, we all have to do it. To come to terms with the inevitability of our own deaths. Good times. The gift, however, is if we reconcile ourselves long before we die. Then we can live like we truly understand how precious each day is.
  • Finally but most importantly, I am enjoying a technicolor season with Jesus. If my relationship with Him pre-March 23 could have been described as watching/hearing my favorite artist in concert in HD, this is like being in the center of the front row in the arena, just three steps away from where he sits on stage. This too is brand new – and freakishly amazing.

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Are we kindred sojourners?

If you, too, are on a detour you didn’t sign up for, these questions may help you find purpose and Company and beauty during the trip:

  1. Can you look back and see how God was preparing you for this current derailment? Allow this to boost your confidence that He continues to go before you.
  2. Are you making a growing, vibrant relationship with Him your number one priority? The byproducts of a thriving relationship with Jesus are peace and strength and grace and joy. We don’t seek Him to receive these things, but we receive these things because we seek Him.
  3. Are you inviting people into your struggle WHILE it’s raging and volatile and sometimes irrational? Or are you making excuses and rationalizations about why that’s a bad idea?
  4. Are you trusting that one day’s measure of grace is all that you need for what’s in front of you right now?
  5. Are you protecting eyes that see the wildflowers growing on the bank of the ditch?

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I don’t know when or if this detour will ever dump me back onto the road I was traveling a month ago, but one thing’s for sure. I’ll be a different traveler if it does.

And I think that’s the point.

This is Her Story: The Moment the Rug Was Pulled from Under My Feet.

Mykea Atkinson is the proud mama of an amazing 15 year-old, Reagan, who attends Marion High School in Marion, S.C. She is the assistant principal at Easterling Primary School in the same district.

At the age of forty-four, she feels more blessed and energetic than ever working with students, both at her school and Marion Baptist Church. Her favorite past time is hanging out with her adopted “fam” that is made up of some amazing guys and gals from her youth group, past and present.


A year and almost four months ago, I lost my beloved.

I say my beloved because the titles husband, friend, father of my child are too weak. The definition of beloved is “dear to your heart,” and when you have been with someone more than half the life you’ve lived, they are your beloved.

Every day is hard.

The town I work and live in is a constant rush of memories because we grew up here, dated here, spent so many wonderful and hard times here. There is not a corner of this town that doesn’t flood me with heart-warming and heart-wrenching memories. Even the church I attend, we grew up in, got married in, and attended as adults. From songs on the radio to certain foods, every day is a struggle to embrace the joy this life has to give.

When my husband, whom I had been with since I was a senior in high school, took his life last December, I felt as if my life was destroyed. It made no sense……..but this is when I fully began to understand God’s purpose for my life.

It is sad to say that although I have a strong faith, I had wavered with my dedication. Some years were better than others. But God had been preparing me and I didn’t even know it. After years of encouragement in my church, I was reading my Bible daily and being discipled….so why wasn’t my life perfect?

And then it happened…….the whole “rug pulled out from under your feet” moment.

It was when I had no choice but to fall to my knees and say, “God, you’ve got to have me because I certainly can’t do this,” and that’s when I knew my mission. Yes, I say mission because it is clearer now than ever before, and it came through hurt and pain. It came through tears and heartbreak. It came from hopelessness and confusion.

You see, through the loss of my beloved in such a heartbreaking and shocking way, I was made to do what I should have been doing all the time.

I just gave it to God! I was diligently in my Word; I was talking to Christian mentors; I was praying, but – most importantly – I was saying, “God, please direct me.”

It was not until I was at rock bottom that I was humble enough to realize that ONLY through Him are all things possible, and I am screaming to the world – THERE IS JOY THROUGH SORROW!

It is easy daily or during holidays to miss a loved one and focus on hurt, but what God wants us to do is reverse that and be thankful and focus on joy and blessings. I am thankful for my life and my time with my Heath because it gave me beautiful gifts such as my daughter, my in-laws (who are parents to me), many friends, and such joyful memories. I am thankful for the pain because it has awakened me to the fact that my mission here is to love on people. Yes. I didn’t list my job or academic goals. I know now it is simply to love on people. It is to love on my many youth I spend time with, my teachers, my students, my friends, and as many people as I can. It sounds hokey, but I have never been clearer in my direction and purpose. I am here to give joy and show joy, ESPECIALLY to be an example to others who are struggling.

There IS JOY THROUGH SORROW!

We only have to embrace it and open ourselves to what our Lord blesses us with every day! People come to me and say, “You’re so positive…….so happy,” but I’m here to tell you I am nothing without God. Nothing. Today I see the beauty and joy in every little and big thing, and it is because through my sorrow, I have realized my blessings.

Should I have done this more before? YES! I was thankful, but not enough. Do I wish a tragedy had not pushed me to this realization? Most definitely! Am I thankful that at forty-three I had the epiphany? You bet!

I am not the only one hurting. Most people are hurting in some way. But do not let sorrow still your joy! Instead let it be a foil from which your blessings shine that much brighter. I am a beyond imperfect sinner who daily struggles, but I have a wonderful God who also blesses me daily and through Him I see the joy in my life. My favorite verse that I keep on a sticky note in my Bible is Jeremiah 29:11 and it has gotten me through some very hard days.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

WOW! My daughter, Reagan, and I have lives forever altered, but I have no fear because God has plans for us. We will use our sorrow to show joy and blessings. No matter what you have or are going through, DO NOT LET SORROW STEAL YOUR JOY! God is good and he can use us in any situation. I am still a work in progress, but I know my God has great things in store for my life! I plan to be joyful in all circumstances. Some days are harder than others, but God is so good!

Don’t let sorrow steal your joy.

Turn your hurt into a mission.

You have so much to be thankful for because God Is Good!

Mykea Atkinson, Guest Blogger

This Is Her Story: Trim the Excess.

Arlia M. Frink lives in Darlington, SC, where she studies poetry. She has a passion for children’s literature, northerly foods, and music of most genres.

If you ever need to find her, it’s best to check the nearest library or coffee shop. You can also find her on Twitter @arliamarie.


At the start of this year, my lungs were recuperating from the vestiges of a clingy pneumonia that made me wheeze like a hippopotamus attempting to tug skinny jeans up her hips. Not a pretty picture, and definitely not pleasant sounds. But, in the midst of my rattling chest cough and consistent exhaustion, I prayed the same thing I pray every January 1st: Lord, give me what you would have me work on this next season, this year.

And when God’s quiet voice resounded through my being with Trim The Excess, I was too tired to laugh as Sarah did, so I told God that I had nothing left to take, that I had nothing of value, let alone excess, to trim.

And then God did what He does best—He began the process of proving me wrong.

I believed I comprehended how deft, how sharp God’s pruning shears are, but in the last two months I have learned new definitions of excess and unimagined reasons for trimming it.  My, how deep the roots of pride are entrenched. How complete the selfishness of the flesh.  But oh, how necessary the pain of surrender. How necessary the freedom of an already liberated child.

For my excess, as God knew, held me so close, so tightly, that I could not breathe any better than when pneumonia wrecked my lungs.

Let me clear, I am not speaking of the excess of material possessions, although collecting an unnecessary amount of physical belongings is often a result of a much deeper attempt to secure the intangible with the tangible. No, I am speaking of the excess, the dross, those behaviors and beliefs that masquerade as holy truth and are worthless providers of sustenance to your soul, your heart, your mind, your spirit. I am speaking of the deepest crevices of a stony, cracked heart crying out to remember when it was turned to flesh and redeemed to spirit.

For what is more excessive, more unnecessary or devoid of nourishment than anger, than denial, than pride? Oh yes, these are the excesses and extras that must be trimmed.

They must be, for when I, we, choose the smallest of ideas, of notions, even unconsciously, over the truth of Christ and His work, then we leave our abundant life unguarded for the thief to steal.  Yes, examining the hardened parts of your heart requires vigilance and resolve and faith that you are not surrendering everything you have fought for only to be abandoned. I will not lie, this process is hard. And it hurts. Oh my word, does it hurt. Not all the time, but enough that you become acquainted with the exquisitely humbling knowledge of the totality of your depravity and the wholeness of grace.

And when you arrive at this point, you will ask yourself: Am I satisfied in my God? Do I believe, trust, that He is all, that His feast is more? Or am I afraid that I need too much, and that He and His trinity are not enough? You will realize what a silly heart you possess and how small is your understanding, how short your memory. You will dare to claim that a column of fire or smoke would provide everlasting obedience, as the everlasting God inhabits your living temple and you still turn away.

But.

During those moments when you question whether progress, or growth is even occurring, whether you will ever be able to breathe again— rest assured, renovation is indeed taking place. We do not serve a God constrained by time or circumstance. We do not worship a Christ who worried over splinters when the cost of purchasing our lives meant iron driven into His body. And we do not follow a Holy Spirit defeated by death.

And so this is the beautiful fight we engage in with each inhalation: that our bodies cry out to satisfy themselves, but our spirits crave with an insatiable hunger for communion with our God. Nothing more, and nothing less, than what remains after trimming the excess.

                                                                                                                                  Arlia Frink, Guest Blogger